Wednesday 27 September 2017

Historical Matches – Abbasid vs. Arab Indian

Following the Abbasid overthrow of the Umayyad Caliphate in 750 AD, the Sindh became independent. The Sindh foiled two invasions by the Abbasid in 769 and 785 AD. Between the invasions, the Abbasid launched a number of naval sorties along the coast of Sindh.

At its core, the Sindh army retained something of its former organization with auxiliaries supplied by Hindu troops. The Arab Indian has ‘tropical’ as their home terrain and it is in this terrain that all three battles will take place.

Game 1
Wood flanking their left, the Arab Indian deploy in two lines with their cavalry formed in the second. Light troops have secured the wood and from this position they will harass the Abbasid right. The Abbasid have formed an extended line with their cavalry taking a position on the open left flank.

The Abbasid bring their cavalry into action on the left forcing the Arab Indian to contract their line. Abbasid spear advance steadily while the light troops of both sides are now actively engaged on the right. Casualties are light on both sides (1 – 1) as the battle progresses in earnest.  

The Abbasid advance now becomes fragmented as Arab resistance stiffens and isolated battles now take the place of formed lines. Fighting from interior lines, the Arab Indian rapidly set reserve cavalry into action; these shift the battle in their favour. Score 4 – 2 for the Arab Indian.

Game 2
Using a wood and river to protect their left flank, the Abbasid deploy in a standard formation with all their heavy cavalry in reserve behind the infantry spear and archers. The Arab Indian adapts a similar formation with their heavy cavalry supporting their left and right wing.

With archers deployed in each battle line, the advance becomes slow and steady.

Arab Indian archery has a devastating effect as they bring down the entire Abbasid bow. This sets a critical moment for the Abbasid as casualties mount faster than they can develop their battle.

Desperate charges by the Abbasid had little effect than deliver more opportunity for the Arab Indian. Calling for a general retreat the Abbasid left the field. Score 5 – 1 for the Arab Indian.

Game 3
The open ground between river and wood offered minimal room to deploy effectively and so the Abbasid deployed a light skirmishing force on the right bank to harass the Arab Indian approach.

The wood, situated on the Abbasid left become hotly contested with the Mutatawwi√° fighting at 1 to 2 odds. The main battle lines approach slowly as both sides archers were trying to find their mark. The Abbasid troops on the opposite bank were having their intended effect as Arab Indian troops were sent to cover any intended crossing.

With their attention diverted the activity across the river, the Abbasid launched a coordinated attack by their spear and heavy cavalry. Arab Indian resistance crumbled as their archers were struck down leaving gaping holes and exposed flanks, ending the battle in a decisive victory for the Abbasid. Score 6 – 3 for the Abbasid.

III/38 Arab Indian 751 – 1206 AD

1 x 1 x General (Cv), 3 x Arab cavalry (Cv), 2 x Arab spearmen (Sp), 2 x Arab archers (3/4Bw), 2 x Hindu archers (3Bw), 1 x Hindu javelinmen (Ps), 1 x Hindu swordsmen (3Bd). 

Thursday 21 September 2017

Battle of Callinicum, 531 AD - the re-fight

The Battle

The Byzantine army face east with its left wing resting on the Euphrates River. To secure the army’s flank, General Ascan has placed all his infantry there with all the cavalry under his command to their right. In the centre, Belisarius deploys his cavalry to extend Ascan’s line and to support his heavy cavalry are the Hunnic light horse. Completing the Byzantine deployment, the Lycaonian infantry are positioned furthest to the right adjacent to the Ghassanid allies.

Across the field, Azarethes has deployed his heavy cavalry with light horse archers to face each of the Byzantine commands. Behind each division are reserve cavalry units forming a second line. 

The Ghassanid Arabs are deployed along the rising ground forming the Byzantine army’s right wing. Across the field the Lakhmid Arabs can be seen deployed in equal number. 

The ground is ideal terrain for cavalry and marked only by small patches of rough ground. As the battle commences, the Arab allies on both sides demonstrate unusual energy and close the distance between them. The rocky ground in front of the Lakhmid position forces them to split their effort; their light troops must first secure the ground leaving their cavalry back in support. In contrast, the Ghassanid are not hindered by the terrain and so move forward on a broad front. 

Both opposing centres move cautiously forward placing their initial effort on their flanks closest to the Euphrates River. Ascan has moved his infantry ahead of his cavalry line confident that they will push the light horse away from the river bank..

Nearly an hour has passed (turn 3) and the first casualties can be seen dotting the hill slope on both sides of the line. The Lakhmid skirmishers, making good use of the rocky ground could now harass either Ghassanid taking place on either side. 

The Byzantine infantry were able to force the horse archers to withdraw so now their efforts would focus on the Asavaran cavalry. At this moment, a unit of skutatoi moved into the rocky area separating two Persian cavalry lines. 

Approaching mid-day (turn 6), the Arab allies on both sides have fought well and inflicted an equal number of casualties (2 – 2), yet neither side could manage to turn the other’s flank and take advantage of the higher ground. Further toward the river, the Byzantine and Sassanid were fully engaged along the entire line with casualties beginning to fall among  each of the four commands. 

Despite the long period of skirmishing the Byzantine were steadily pushing the Sassanid cavalry back and with Ascan's the infantry turning the Persian right away from the river bank the prospects for a victory looked good.

After hours of skirmishing to and fro, dust clouds had obscured the activity taking place behind the Persian line. Both Azarethes and his subordinate had slowly moved their reserves further south and the vassal horse archers were recalled from the far right flank to join the battle in centre. 

Mid-day had passed (turn 10) and on the hill Ghassanid troops could be seen fleeing along the slope as they had been dealt a deciding blow by the Lakhmid (4 – 2). This did not bode well for Belisarius as both centre commands had reached a tipping point (3 – 3). Calling on his troops to renew their effort Belisarius with his Bucellarii joined the battle.  

Both army banners could be seen in close proximity of one another, but both commanders were focused with fighting their separate battles. The laughter of the muses could be clearly heard as both centre commands reached demoralisation on the same bound, but it was the timely arrival of the light horse from the right wing that tipped the scales. With the Ghassanid in fleeing the field and his own command broken, Belisarius was forced to order a retreat. 

The battle did flow as history is recorded. In actuality it was a long series of low pip scores that held the Persians back from developing their game plan. Despite the low scores, both Persian reserves slowly moved south toward the anticipated weak link; the area between the cavalry of Belisarius and the Lycaonian infantry. It was here that the Hunnic light horse was destroyed which prompted the recall of the Persian light horse from the right flank. Their rapid relocation tipped the balance to help win the battle.

In retrospect, one-third of the Byzantine army was infantry which limited any use of reserves to the commanders and their immediate guard. This became a critical issue as the Byzantine could not counter the Persian relocation of troops.    

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Battle of Callinicum, 531 AD

Following the Persian defeat at the Battle of Dara (530 AD), King Kavadh I continued his campaign the following spring by sending another force to probe deeper into Byzantine territory (Commagene) with intent to capture a number of Syrian cities. This force, led by Azarethes, consisted of 15,000 cavalry had an additional 5,000 Lakhmid allies. Trailing the Persian force, Belisarius had insufficient troops to bring Azarethes to battle, but reinforcements arrived on Easter Friday giving Belisarius a slight advantage in numbers.

Map: By Cplakidas 

Having defeated the Persians on two occasions, Byzantine commanders were naturally eager for battle, but rather than risk battle, Belisarius preferred to drive the Persians back across the frontier. Further, the Easter weekend would be an inauspicious moment to fight as many troops would be fasting. The general consensus wanted battle, so relenting, Belisarius drew up his forces the following day. 

The battlefield.
The battle is described as having taken place on the south bank of the Euphrates River and for the most part this offered level ground for half the battlefield rising gently for the remainder of the field. No further description of the terrain is given, but gathering from the disposition of the Byzantine infantry we might conclude there was suitable cover for infantry to operate against cavalry. 

The game board.
1 x Waterway (Euphrates River), 3 x rocky ground, and rising ground stretching across the depth of the board (starting 12BW from the board edge and gradually rising every 4BW).

The Byzantine forces.     

Left Wing
1 x Ascan, subordinate general (Cv), 5 x Kavallarioi (Cv), 4 x skutatoi (Bd), 2 x archers (Ps).

1 x Belisarius (Cv), 5 x Kavallarioi (Cv), 2 x archers (Ps), 2 x Lycaonian javelinmen (3Ax), 2 x Hunnic horse archer (LH).

Right Wing (Ghassanid allies)
1 x Al-Harith (LH), 1 x light horse (LH), 1 x scout (LCm), 4 x camel riders (Cm), 2 x swordsmen (4Bd), 1 x archers (3Bw), 2 x archers and slingers (Ps).

Byzantine infantry on the left secured the south bank of the Euphrates and on the right, the Lycaonian infantry formed on the rising ground with all the Byzantine cavalry positioned in centre. The Ghassanid Arabs under Al-Harith were deployed further up on the rising slope.

Sassanid Persian force.

Right Wing
1 x subordinate general (Cv), 8 x Asavaran (Cv), 3 x vassal horse archer (LH).

1 x Azarethes (Cv), 8 x Asavaran (Cv), 3 x vassal horse archer (LH).

Left Wing (Lakhmid Allies)
1 x Al-Mundhir (LH), 1 x light horse (LH), 1 x scout (LCm), 4 x camel riders (Cm), 2 x swordsmen (4Bd), 1 x archers (3Bw), 2 x archers and slingers (Ps).

Sources describe the Sassanid as an all cavalry force, so an adjustment to the DBA Sassanid Persian list II/69c should be made for this battle. No elephants, levy or Dailami are mentioned as being present, so Asavaran cavalry and vassal horse archers are substituted for these. The Persian Azarethes placed the Lakhmid Arabs under Al-Mundhir to face the Ghassanid and the Sassanid Asavaran faced the Byzantine troops. 

Both Arab allies are described as mounted and for this re-fight we may conclude that those foot troops present have left their mounts (mules, camels) to the rear of their deployment. 

Tomorrow, the battle.

Thursday 14 September 2017

The Battle of the Zab, 750 AD - to the game board.

The Umayyad, encamped south of the Zab River, deployed its force into two wings of equal strength. The long line of spearmen was flanked by archers and small units of heavy cavalry protected their flanks. The remaining mounted units formed a reserve behind each of the infantry wings.

The Abbasid, as the attacker, positioned all their infantry to face the Umayyad left wing and held a large cavalry group to face the Umayyad right. Both commands were of equal strength with one exception, all the light horse were deployed on the right wing.

The opening moves.
The infantry lines of both sides moved forward and took up positions on either side of the river. The resulting sporadic archery had little effect but did offer both sides a moments respite to consider some new options. On the extreme right flank, the crossing of the river by the Abbasid light horse was contested by Umayyad light horse and Jund cavalry.

By good fortune, the Umayyad light horse had been beaten offering the Abbasid an opportunity to counter which they did with good effect (2 – 0).

Despite the setback, the commander of the left wing held the river bank with his spearmen and re positioned his remaining infantry in echelon and Jund cavalry still further back. This offered the Abbasid an unopposed crossing but it was no means a coordinated one; this opened a possible opportunity.

The middle game.
That opportunity presented itself on turn five when the Umayyad struck a small group of infantry with their Jund cavalry. The success of having eliminated one infantry unit was offset by the loss of their own bringing the score to a desperate 3 – 1.

The Abbasid infantry of the left wing were now engaged with the Umayyad on the opposite bank.

After two hours of battle (turn 8) the Umayyad left became demoralised as another unit of Jund fell to Abbasid javelins but the effort had cost the Abbasid dear (4 – 2).

On the Umayyad right, the infantry were holding the river line sending every Abbasid recoiling back for their effort.

With the infantry of the Umayyad right hotly engaged, the Jund cavalry, five units strong, reached the bank of the Zab intent on forcing the battle to a conclusion. On the left flank, the slaughter continued as Abbasid caught isolated units, yet the spearmen of the left wing held their position at the river bank with their general directly behind them.

After two and a half hours of battle (turn 10), the Abbasid archers demonstrated how well their condition had not slackened one bit.

The end game.
The drama that developed for the Umayyad now moved to the right flank as isolated infantry and cavalry units quickly moved forward to defend the river bank. The battle took an unexpected turn as each of the four combats fell in quick succession against the Umayyad bringing the battle to an end; 10g – 2 on the Umayyad left, 4 – 2 on the Umayyad right.

Order of Battle 

Right Wing Umayyad Army
1 x Marwan II (Cv), 3 x jund cavalry (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (3Bw), 1 x Bedouin (LH), 1 x Dailami (4Ax), 1 x archer (Ps).
Left Wing Umayyad Army
1 x General (Cv), 3 x jund cavalry (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (3Bw), 1 x Bedouin (LH), 1 x Dailami (4Ax), 1 x archer (Ps).

Right Wing Abbasid Army
1 x Abul Abbas as-Saffah Cv), 2 x lancers (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (4Bw), 2 x Bedouin (LH), 1 x Mutatawwi√° (3Wb), 1 x archers (Ps).
Left Wing Abbasid Army
1 x General (Cv), 4 x lancers (Cv), 3 x spearmen (Sp), 2 x archers (4Bw), 2 x Zanj (3Bd)

Each command consists of 12 elements, therefore four casualties are needed for a command to reach demoralisation. Umayyad commands are identical while the Abbasid have redeployed their light horse and Zanj infantry.

Optional scenarios.
The historical strengths for both sides varied great, but most set the Abbasid force at around 35,000 troops with the Umayyad fielding two or three times that number. Despite the odds, the Abbasid had a string of victories the previous year and were eager for battle, more so as their leader, Abdallah ibn Ali had been proclaimed the rightful Caliph.

In contrast, the frequency of rebellion over the past four years had eroded the confidence the troops had with Marwan II’s capacity to lead; this was demonstrated by the reluctance of some units to obey orders during battle.

There are a few ways to reflect this in the game, one, by increasing the number of Umayyad troops and/or two, adjusting the total needed to demoralize an Umayyad command.

Option 1, the Abbasid retain their two commands totaling 24 elements while the Umayyad are increased to 36 elements but still form two commands. This would prompt an Umayyad player to maintain larger groups or maneuver part of a command while the rest remained inert which would demonstrate to a degree a level of disunity within the command.

Option 2, the 36 elements are distributed among three commands and not two. The total needed to reach demoralisation however, should be lowered by one for the two commands subordinate to Marwan II. Both sides must demoralise two commands to reach victory and despite the Umayyad having a superiority of numbers, their confidence can be shaken when the casualties mount.  

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Battle of the Zab, 750 AD.

 Marwan II (744–50), the grandson of Marwan I, led an army into Damascus in December 744, where he was proclaimed caliph. Moving the capital to Harran a rebellion soon broke out in Syria resulting in retaliatory action against the cities of Homs and Damascus (745). Further opposition broke out in Iraq and Iran from the Kharijites (746) who brought forward their claimants to the caliph. No sooner was the revolt suppressed when a time a more serious threat had arisen in Khorasan.

Around 746, Abu Muslim assumed leadership of the Hashimiyya in Khurasan. In 747, Abu Muslim successfully initiated an open revolt in Khurasan against Umayyad rule. With an army he gained control over the province of Khurasan and in 749 captured Kufa, the last Umayyad stronghold in Iraq. In November of the same year Abul Abbas as-Saffah was recognized as the new caliph.

From his capital in Harran, Marwan II mobilized his troops and advanced toward Iraq. In January 750 the two forces met along the banks of the Zab River.

The battlefield and troop strength
One source {1} sets the date of the battle at January 25, 750 AD, but little else is known about its location other than it was fought along its banks. If this is so, then the river might be considered paltry allowing troops to freely cross at any point, alternatively, despite a low water level, its banks could still pose a problem forcing a constricted passage. Some sources make reference to the construction of a pontoon bridge to help speed the crossing by Umayyad troops {2}, nonetheless, troops were able to cross at other points of the river

The photos seen here are sourced from Wiki Commons and are placed merely to give a general impression of the river and nearby terrain. 

Troop strengths vary from modest to exaggerated, but all sources give the Umayyad a numerical advantage. However, that advantage was offset with some Umayyad troops having questionable morale brought about through past uprisings and defeats plus the relocation of the capital. For this game we shall dispense with the calculation of numbers and give both sides two commands each (24 elements).

Tomorrow, the battle.

{1} The Battle of Zab, Cohn and Russell.

{2} The Armies of the Caliphs, Hugh Kennedy.

Sunday 10 September 2017

DBA Terrain By Type

Since the publication of DBA 3.0, I have devoted much time and attention to the construction of new terrain pieces. During the early stages of 3.0 testing, the terrain we used came from the gunpowder collection which was, on the whole, quite large in quantity and size. Through our game experience we quickly saw a need to create new items and preferably these should be of medium or small size. Further, we swapped the standard board for one of a larger format, 80cm x 80cm. This seemed paradoxical, but enlarging the game board did diminish the chance of discarding terrain pieces resulting in some quadrants containing three pieces. This generate some interesting battles and certainly changed our perspective with regard to certain terrain features, such as BUA and rivers.  

As the collecting of ancient and medieval armies proceeded this was done on a project basis focusing on a central theme army and a host of enemies. The first of these, the Severan Dynasty (3rd century AD), focused on Rome and the enemies it faced across its frontiers. Hilly terrain was quickly needed to engage the Picts,  forest regions were needed to fight most of the barbarians, the nomadic horsemen had steppe as home terrain, and the Parthians needed dry landscape to call home. 

Generally, the construction of terrain features began after the completion of a new army. As time progressed and the number of armies grew, the terrain pieces varied in quality and colour. This was due to either new materials used or new ideas were implemented for their construction.

The Historical Match Ups series posted here gave me an opportunity to use the armies, experiment with terrain placement, the deployment of the armies, and simulate their tactics, but a closer inspection of the photos did reveal much that needed to be done with the terrain. It was then I decided to take a rigorous step and standardise the terrain pieces for all seven DBA categories. 

The project took a few months to complete, but I am satisfied with the end result. The templates used for the majority of bad and rough going were produced in standard size and shape which greatly reduced the storage space by 60%. Bad and rough going terrain pieces now consisted of one large feature (6BW x 3BW), three mid-size (4BW x 3BW) and one or two small pieces (3BW x 2BW); the latter are useful as terrain can be intersected by a road or river.

Duplicate templates were made so they could be used in European landscape or dry arid regions; an arable region located in Mesopotamia should look somewhat different than one located in France. Templates could also serve multiple functions depending on the scatter material placed on top; this could represent rocky, scrub, marsh, enclosures or even BUA (hamlet) and all this is covered on the final page.

Where applicable, I have noted the dimensions and quantity of certain pieces under the photos.

Below is an overview of the armies having a particular terrain by type listed in each book. Do not overlook the fact that the first book blankets a longer period of time with each successive book a five century period. Some sub-lists may have two terrain types as this reflects a period of migration or conquest.

Book I  (64 lists, 137 sub-lists)
Arable                  64                        
Forest                  0
Hilly                     28                        
Steppe                  7                          
Dry                       7                          
Tropical                2
Littoral                29                        

Book II  (84 lists, 291 sub-lists)
Arable                  89         
Forest                  14          
Hilly                     33         
Steppe                 16          
Dry                      14          
Tropical               10          
Littoral                25         

Book III  (80 lists, 127 sub-lists)
Arable                  39         
Forest                   8            
Hilly                      21          
Steppe                  17          
Dry                       18          
Tropical                12          
Littoral                 12          

Book IV  (85 lists, 149 sub-lists)
Arable                  63         
Forest                  10          
Hilly                     26         
Steppe                 10          
Dry                       6            
Tropical                4            
Littoral                 21          

313 lists, 794 sub-lists